Cedric Burnside raps with Brian Dunne.
In 2012 I had the good fortune to briefly meet Cedric Burnside after his fabulous performance at a blues festival in Gaziantep, Turkey, of all places. Prior to his show at the Rosemount Hotel on Sunday the 15th of March 2020, I took the opportunity to renew our acquaintance. Following a chat about the sad waves of refugees he’d seen around Gaziantep, where I’d lived and worked in the year leading up to the Syrian Civil War, I asked Cedric Burnside if he’d agree to an interview for Around The Sound. He courteously nodded his head, so I turned on the recorder and this is what poured out.
Around The Sound: When I saw you in Turkey I was struck by the pure authenticity of your story-songs. How do you put yourself in these situations when you sing songs about other people from your own point of view?
Cedric Burnside: Well, it’s sorta just what I go through in life. I mainly do it because it’s part of me being real to myself and the environment that I come from. I don’t know no other way to do it. The things that my family went through, that I went through, even my friends.
ATS: I was struck by how, when you’re relating stories about other people, how personal your songs were.
CB: They’re pretty personal. Y’know, I done been in some pretty messed up moments. We all have. That thing in Turkey was a pretty deep and messed up moment. But, yeah, that’s how I figure it. It’s not something that I try to not think about, it’s not something that I try to run from, no matter how bad it is, no matter what the situation is, the way I can talk about it best is through my music.
ATS: It seems easy, from the songs I heard you play before, to relate it to a war. It seems like the streets are in a state of war. So much shooting, so many deaths and senseless acts of violence. How close to reality do you think that idea is to where you grew up?
CB: Oh wow! I would say very close. Beside it happening everywhere in the world, you have some chaos no matter where you go. At my hometown you hear about that at least once or twice a week. Then in Memphis, Tennessee, which is 25 minutes away from Holly Springs, Mississippi, you hear about that three or four times a week. It happens.
ATS: I was wondering, when you were introducing songs, and you were saying about how such-and-such died, and he died and all that, I was thinking to myself that I’d like to be Cedric Burnside’s friend, but I’m not sure I want to be the topic of one of his songs.
CB: Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Well, nobody wanna die, least I don’t. But, y’know, everything that I sing is not all bad. There’s a lot of things that I sing, things that I go through like not having a car. Being on the side of the road for four, five hours in the hot sun. Ha ha ha. Having to hitch-hike, not having a ride at all. That’s the blues also. Which I have been in all those situations.
ATS: But you haven’t been riding freight train wagons?
CB: No, no, no, that’s my big daddy there. [thoughtful pause] My brother, when he passed, that was a moment where I had to collect myself and get myself back on track ‘cos it really hurt. I only had one brother and we were really close. Also when my mom passed, then my uncle passed. They were tragic moments. Nobody asks for anything, nobody even knew it was gonna happen, it just happens. I guess this is how the world turns.
ATS: I saw the name Cedric Burnside playing at a blues fest near me in Turkey and you knocked me out. After that time I went back to listen to your songs on the net, then found the songs of your famous grandfather RL Burnside, but I heard you first. There are some striking similarities, but there’s also a difference of modernity between your songs and his. Actually, listening to his songs, as he got older they seemed to get deeper towards the end of his career.
CB: Yeah, yeah I agree.
ATS: How do you feel your career is progressing? From when you first started writing songs until now? How do you feel about your latest batch of songs?
CB: I feel like the older I get, the more The Good Lord lets me be on this earth, the more I grow. Through good times and bad times. So the songs that I write now are really heartfelt songs. A lot of them are about love because I found out that you can’t hate people for your whole life. There was some people in my life that I didn’t care too much about, that rubbed me the wrong way and treated me very poorly, very badly. For a long time I hated them, but that was my “past” life, y’know. You live and you learn.
ATS: If you hold onto that kind of grief it affects your soul. You can’t progress because you’re hanging onto anger and grief.
CB: Exactly. Exactly. So I thank God that I lived through that and I learned to live. I think the songs that I write now, there’s more of me growing into the man that I am today. From the past to the future. Y’know. Ha ha ha ha.